Okayplayer's 19 Breakout Artists To Watch For In 2019
In 2018, we were inundated with music. Things don’t seem to be letting up anytime soon. Here are the 19 artists Okayplayer feels like you should be paying attention to in 2019.
We just wrapped up a momentous year in music, one marked by massive releases and the business behemoth that became streaming. For artists, it proved easy to slip past the purview of consumers coping with a transforming industry.
Streaming left an unprecedented impact on the way listeners consumed music and on the way musicians released it. We’ve been inundated with music, and the deluge of drops only grows heavier.
So what does it take to be seen in 2019? For up-and-coming artists last year, the path to success may have seemed more reliant on a stroke of social media luck or cheat codes to an unbeatable game. Will that trend hold up? We’ll find out together.
Here are our picks for the 19 artists to watch for in 2019.
Brooklyn duoBathe seems to have a penchant for unorthodox combinations. They fuse surf with R&B— making surf music in New York make sense. Their 2018 debut single, “Sure Shot,” is as smooth as it is cinematic, tackling the topic of toxic masculinity endured by black men of today. The duo juxtaposes the heavy theme with an airy instrumental and glimmering vocals.
Blueface become a polarizing force in rap this year; online critics call him “off-beat,” but Ice Cube calls him an “acquired taste.” We might want to take the West Coast rap OG’s word as bond, here. After all, Blueface takes his cues from a long line of West Coast rappers — from Suga Free to E-40. The 21-year-old Los Angeles native released three mixtapes this year, each one showcasing both his commitment and innovation to the regional sound that perplexes some while remains tradition to others. Footage of him performing live— sometimes outdoors and imprmptu— show he’s often shirtless and surrounded by a mob, many women. Sex is an integral part of Blueface’s music, persona, and appeal. He could easily be the latest star to step forward and fill the male sex symbol void in hip-hop at the moment.
Recent Republic Records signee Coi Leray plays on perceptions of her image and appeal every way she can. Whether she’s rapping about seducing men and women or stunting on them, she does so with candor, conviction, and — most importantly — cool.
Earlier this year, contemporary soul singer duendita, an NYU Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music student and institute’s Future Music Moguls program alum, was featured on the song “angel” off Nigerian artist Odunsi (The Engine)’s album rare. Then, she went on to release her own debut EP, direct line to My creator, in November. The Puerto Rican-American artist cloaks heartache, healing, love, and purpose in honey vocals. Her tone is heavy; it just may carry the voices of the ancestors she sings through and about.
Flipp Dinero had a fast and furious year. The 23-year-old Haitian-American, hailing from Canarsie, came a long way from having his parents bar him from listening to rap. Signed to Cinematic Music Group, alongside DJ Khaled’s We the Best Music Group and Epic Records, the artist released his debut EP The Guala Way in 2017. He followed up with his massive hit single “Leave Me Alone,” which went on to peak at 27 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. It’s not entirely the Soundcloud sad-boy sound, à la Juice WRLD, but it clearly hits similar chords of relatability that facilities it’s sing-songy catchiness and emo-esque quality that listeners know and love.
Guapdad4000 parlayed an online presence into a profitable and promising music career. This was 2018’s magical but seemingly incalculable formula that saw Instagram personalities trying their luck at music as a means to leverage their platforms for profit. Guapdad and a few others figured it out. It could’ve been that his scammer persona is more of a reality than a character and helped him finesse his way up. Or maybe his comedic videos and catchy taglines — from Balenciaga Bandit to Ferragamo Falcon — should have forewarned audiences of his pivot from light alliteration to trying his hand at bars. With a TWNSHP record deal, and cosigns from the likes of Cam’Ron and Drake, it’s worth seeing how far he goes.
JAG is not new to the game. Following his 2017 debut album, Dalton Ave, the South Central rapper released 2700 in September, with features from Trey Songz, Ty Dolla $ign and Problem. Though known for his freestyles, JAG proves equipped in being able to follow through where some fall short; he translated that craftsmanship and fervor of his freestyles into a cohesive, solid project. The emcee continued to press forward this year, opting for a sound that leans more towards star status while retaining soul, with potent political messages and everyday musings on life as black, creative, and aware.
In November of 2016, Rich the Kid signed Clinton Hill rapper Jay Critch to his label Rich Forever. His popularity and viral tracks granted him the “sound of the city” before he’d release a full project. This past November, the 21-year-old released his debut album, Hood Favorite, living up to its titular namesake. Jay Critch utilized the signature Soundcloud rapper sonic framework but motions for melody over mumble, with a sometimes trap, other times lo-fi sound. His raps are smooth, simple, and hard, but his animate adlibs are probably what resonates the most.
Kiana Ledé is no stranger to the spotlight. The singer and multi-instrumentalist became recognized for her viral song covers on Youtube, but that wasn’t her career beginning, and surely isn’t its end. In 2018, she released her debut label EP Selfless. In an interview with Okayplayer earlier this year, Ledé made a case for her desire to see black artistry that can cross genres while adhering to its roots. “I think the biggest mold that I want to break for an R&B artist is only playing on urban radio. I feel like black people rule the industry right now.” Fusing R&B, pop, soul, alternative, and indie, Ledé is well on her way to being among the pantheon of Pop artists with an edge.
The singer and drummer, signed to Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder label, released his third album, Time, which featured appearances from labelmate Thundercat. Cole’s sound is stamped by his falsettos and off-kilter funk-pop fusion. If you dig deep into his galactic-themed website, you’ll find a brief bio that reads, “What do Quincy Jones, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Flying Lotus and a bunch of movie theatre janitors have in common? A: They’re all fans of Louis Cole.” That should be enough convincing.
In April, Nicki Minaj mentioned Maliibu Miitch as one of the rising women in rap to watch for. That is a rare but fitting cosign from the likes of Minaj. Maliibu Miitch is the disciple of Lil Kim, Foxy Brown, Nicki Minaj, and Azealia Banks. She is a New York rap traditionalist, and her revival of the style— as many of her peers borrow from other regional styles— is more refreshing than it is antiquated. She’s also among the most gifted of the city’s newer crop of lyricists. But, it’s not what she says, it’s how she says it. Her studied, bar-centric standard style of lyricism is powered by her husky tone, impressive inflections, and sharp voice control.
Megan Thee Stallion
Megan Thee Stallion became the new internet it-girl this year. She’s signed to 300 Entertainment, becoming the first female rapper to join the imprint. Her larger than life lust-him-and-leave-him persona is less character and more of a reality. Aware of the male-dominated scene that’s characterized the rise of rappers out of her hometown, Megan deliberately flips the dynamic and takes charge through her lyrics. She’s at the wheel, we’re just riding along.
When Melii released a cover of Cardi B’s “Bodack Yellow” she garnered attention from troves of online listeners and label heads alike, landing a deal with Interscope last December. Cardi B, arguably the biggest rapper in America at the moment, is a Dominican from Uptown— and so is Melii. The public’s piqued interest in what she represents translates to newfound visibility for the Harlem rapper. And the right people are checking for her. Rihanna played her single “Icey” in a Fenty Beauty promotional video on Instagram. Then, Meek Mill featured her on “Wit The Shits” off his latest critically acclaimed album, Championships.
When Cardi B released her Invasion of Privacy single “Be Careful,” speculation about her writing saw grounds in a discovery that the track was “ghostwritten” by her friend Pardison Fontaine. But he didn’t ghostwrite the song; he co-wrote it. After releasing his debut mixtape, Not Supposed to Be Here in 2015, he went on to work with Cardi on her album debut in 2017. Fontaine was credited as a writer on 12 out of the 13 tracks on the record-breaking project. The 29-year-old rapper has also co-written songs for Kanye West’s 2018 album Ye. But this year, his own single “Backin’ It Up” peaked at number 65 on the US Billboard Hot 100. He and Cardi went on to perform the song live for the first time at the 2018 BET Hip Hop Awards.
Brooklyn’s Radamiz hit the stages of Summer Jam and SXSW; headlined at New York music staples like S.O.B’s and Webster Hall; opened up for Nas, Rakim, and Kendrick Lamar; and got airplay from Hot 97 and MTV Jams before having released a full body of work. After he dropped his debut album, Writeous, in 2016, he followed up with a slew of singles, as he gears up to release his forthcoming sophomore effort. His rap style is bar-centric self-help scripture on beat breaks, documenting his past and progress and the city that helped him get here.
Before releasing Collection One in March, SAINt JHN was writing songs for Jidenna, Hoodie Allen, Usher, and dvsn. In 2010, he released two tapes, The St. John Portfolio and In Association, that’d launch his career as a songwriter. But 2018 was his bid to fame on top of success. Collection One is a capsule of the Brooklyn artist’s conglomerate craft; he sings, raps, writes, plays guitar, and models for Gucci. It’s clear that SAINt JHN won’t stop until he’s a superstar.
Tobe Nwigwe is making purpose popular. Performance art, on stage and in his videos, is a key part of the Nigerian-American rapper’s package, but his content is equally almighty. In October, Tobe rapped in the BET Hip-Hop Awards’ cypher. Then, after the viral success of his well-received project The Originals, Nwigwe followed up with a concurrent playlist, More Originals. His God-fearing, commentary-driven, southern stylings alongside the creative partnership with his wife, Fat, and producer LaNell Grant, power his voice and vision.
Valee’s meticulous murmur style makes everyday minutia sound momentous. Valee raps softly, and his presence on wax is more comforting than attention-grabbing. His songs are short and he’s easy to listen to, with luculent and lax lyrics that sound like he’s casually in control but a little lost, too.
Nigerian-American sister duo Ivana and Jessica Nwokike released their debut album, Silk Canvas, earlier this year, with features from GoldLink, KAYTRANDA, and Masego. Their strain of R&B is reminiscent of the long lost but not forgotten Cleopatra, the R&B-pop sister trio that became one of the UK’s first black girl groups. They extract the essence of ‘90s R&B acts like Brandy and TLC, while also pulling from the adjacent house sound that stamped that era. They’re less reliant on nostalgia-laden appeal and more invested in harnessing their inspirations through a refreshing rework of familiarities. VanJess signed to RCA Record’s Keep Cool, a new joint venture that also rostered Normani this year.